We've all played them, the games where the goal is to become the ruler of the world. Long time famous games, like Axis & Allies or the more commonly known Risk. Why are these board games so intensely popular that they are held as staples of university war-gaming clubs and family dens all around the world? Maybe the challenge of trying to defeat your opponent(s). Is it the strategy involved with turns that sometimes take over 30 minutes to pass or titanic battles that last so long the game itself goes for months.* Perhaps it's the simple megalomania of it in trying to rule the world in cardboard form. More then likely its some bizarre combination of them all that makes these games so popular. The same also applies to Magic I believe. Remember when all Magic was about was two powerful wizards battling it out for no real reason. Before the term "Planeswalker" was even commonly used and Shivan Dragon was a really threatening creature. Why were the wizards fighting each other, what effects did they have on the world and the land around them, and what effects did the land have on them in return?
Now you, the players, can answer silly questions like this within the game itself. No more Gerrards or Squees, no more invading Phyrexians as the background for the game. Now it's just the wizards going to war to take over the world, in Conquest.
Conquest is a Magic variant that friends and myself have played on and off since we first got remotely good at the game. The premise is simple. Like Risk, your goal is to rule the world by stomping out the competition. But this in itself would be just like normal Magic, so the first thing you need is a map.
The map is just like any other map you've seen with states or provinces marked in dotted lines along the paper and the terrain shown as brown, green and blue markings. You may draw the map yourself on scrap paper or take the time to create a very nice and artistic one. I find the old AD&D maps to be of great use in this since my artistic skill leaves much to be desired. The next thing you do after this is mark each territory with a number or name. It's your choice, however I prefer numbers as it allows you to change the flavor of the map slightly. Once this is done you take a plain sheet of lined paper, (possibly 2 or 3) and write the numbers down leaving several spaces between each. Beside the numbers you can write the territory name.
Now you have your goal, to take over each territory by battling over it with your opponents. But this in itself also doesn't add much to the game as it just becomes a series of multi-player games where the victor marks their victory with a token, (coins, dice, M&M's and bottle caps all work well for this**). It also doesn't allow for any variation in the game itself and the better decks/players will soon show themselves and circles of power will be drawn. So what we do now is throw our sabot¤ into the gears. After you have written the name of each territory on your paper put a hyphen after it, now your going to give each territory an ability or effect that enhances the battle that is being fought there.
For example: The battle is happening in the crystal canyons where a strange mystic wind blows through and has turned the canyon walls into a magical refracting mass and the threads of the wind itself distort the aether. Thus the ability that this territory puts into the battle is that any player may pay 3 mana to change the target of any spell that has a single target to any other new legal target of their choice. Or more simply it's infinite Misdirection for everyone as long as they have the mana to pay for it. This creates a very amusing battle, especially if someone is relying heavily on targeted effects like various red burn spells.
Don't be afraid to get creative with this, it's one of the things that makes this variant so fun to play. Once each territory has a "battle power" you have to give it something else, an "ownership power".
Ownership powers are the reward you get for conquering the land. The effect of ownership is one that you can draw upon in further battles. Much like owning more territory in Risk gives you more armies in the game, ownership gives you more power.
An ownership power shouldn't be as influencing as a battle power, but should be something that will be useful, such as giving an optional colorless mana during the main phase for casting certain spells, or even colored mana if you want. Just remember not to get to out of control with this part, as it will make the owner nearly unbeatable later.
So now we have incredible high power territory at stake in our battles. But how do we proceed. This is very simple actually, all players start at territory #1. They battle over it until a victor has been found. That victor then marks the territory with the above mention token and chooses the next area to be battled for. The victor of that battle then chooses the next target and so forth. You can only choose areas that are connected to the one you just won by touching at the sides or by marked route***. Once all the areas have been taken and marked, you come to a decision point as players, do you A) end the game here and declaring the winner as the one who has taken the most area, or B) go for the whole enchilada until a supreme overlord has been found. If you choose A, the story ends and you all grin and go about the rest of your lives till the next time you play. If you choose B however, its time to go down the rabbit hole, find the rabbit, and bribe its kids to beat it up. The last battle winner now chooses the first victim in a neighboring territory. The defending player then asks one of the non-attacking players to ally with them, that person may accept of refuse, however since war isn't cheap they may ask for compensation for their services****. This process continues until all players have chosen a side, sorry but there is no Switzerland here. Now that the lines are drawn the attacker plays first to commence the assault, however should the attack fail and they lose the battle, then they also get pushed out the area they attacked from and it goes to the defender.
Eventually players will lose all the area they control, which essentially puts them out of the game. At this point they may bow out and watch or continue to play by becoming mercenaries. Mercenaries can never own territory again and cannot receive it as compensation for services. Mercenaries either work for moral belief or money, which means they offer their services to the people who still have territory. The difference between a regular player and a mercenary is that mercenaries only use 30 card decks instead of the normal 60 plus. This means they aren't as effective as the main army, but can help turn the tide of battle before their resources run out. The 30 card deck is simply the players original deck trimmed down to 30 cards of their choice. Warfare now continues till everyone has been defeated and one person stands upon the ashes of their enemies.
Congratulations, one of you is now the ruler of the world and got to have fun playing Magic while becoming it. One of the beauties of this variant is that you can use any deck construction rules you and fellow players want, even 5 color if you ditch or modify the mercenary rule. I've found that it works very well with pentacle style games of 5 players and highlander style can be a lot of fun in it as well. The biggest problem I've found with it is that you can die of old age before actually completing a full game, I've only done it once myself and it took almost an entire weeks worth of playing to do it. Otherwise I hope you try Conquest out and enjoy it as much as I do.
Nick "Ura" Saviskoff
Some guy who thinks he's a cat
¤(editor's note: A sabot the French name for a wooden shoe, or a shoe with a wooden sole. Throwing them "into the gears" refers to the act of sabotage . Get it?
* I've had one game of Risk last 3 months before someone finally knocked the board of the table and scrambled it. The 3 remaining players called it a draw due to seismic circumstances.
** If you do use M&M's or other consumable candies, for God's sake, DO NOT EAT THEM!!!! We had one guy who used to do this so we started replacing the M&M's with those little squished marble glass beads when he wasn't looking, needless to say he paid for it the next time he chomped down.
*** Marked routes can be direct lines of travel over sea, underground tunnels that act as short cuts, whatever you feel like.
**** Compensation for Services: Basically equals bribery on whatever scale you wish to take it to. You may offer anything you wish such as peace treaties, giving them the attackers territory if you win it by driving them back, giving them free booster packs, or paying for pizza. Its up to you, but you must, I repeat, MUST honor whatever agreements you make. If you don't Narf will come and strike you down to forever play Spellfire and Pokèmon against annoying 5 year olds and confiscate all you Magic, role-playing, and other games which are considered cool.*****
***** Disclaimer: Its not that I don't like Pokèmon or Spellfire or not think they have a certain coolness about them, but playing them forever would almost be a featured part of my own personal hell.
****** Don't these get irritating after a while? I thought so too. So in order to make up for it, I'm going to hold a contest. For the person who can design the greatest Conquest map I will give a prize.
The map must have:
1)Both a legible picture for the map, (scan it, make it in paint, I don't care.) and have the territories marked and their powers listed.
2)The map must be balanced so as not to favor any one color or style of play over any other. Hence territories that do things like give all green creatures +10/+10 will be frowned upon.
3)Impress me with the creativity. Make it amazing and exciting and original.
4)Take some time to test it out if you can and work out any bugs in your map.
5)Expect to be rewarded if you have the best overall design.
What will the prize be you ask? Certainly not as dull as the 2 junky foil rares I offered in my last contest. Well how about this, I will give 15 randomly selected rares from my trade binder to the person who is the best designer. Just send your entries to my email in zip files, I will choose a winner on July 26th and announce that person in an article soon after.